Sailing: Smith's Whitbread entry takes a maiden voyage: British skipper sees his modified Round-the-World maxi take to the water for its first trial run in the Solent

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DIM, DISMAL and damp it might have been, but yesterday the Solent belonged to Lawrie Smith as he took his Spanish-entered Whitbread maxi Fortuna for its first trial sail.

After delays during feverish activity on the dockside at Hamble to fit the boom to the extraordinary wing mast, he gave everyone their first glimpse of his ingenious arrangementthat he hopes will help him win the round the world race, which starts in September.

There were one or two oddities in the way the sponsor's message had been stuck on the expensive Kevlar material, and as the new sails were hoisted the near calm kept her speed to a minimum.

Then, along with some rain, in came a line of breeze and the yacht which started life as a 76-foot lightweight sloop showed just how quickly she can develop power as a lengthened, heavier, twin-masted ketch.

Smith and the design team aboard know they will face some rigorous scrutiny from the trio of new, clipper-bowed ketches taking part in the UAP Round Europe Race. But yesterday Smith was all smiles as he saw for the first time the fruits of a dollars 1.2m (pounds 800,000) modification programme to his new toy.

Today in the Solent, records will be at risk - if the forecasters are right about conditions for the 57th Round the Island Race - but not in terms of numbers competing. There should be 1,225 setting off from Cowes, compared with the 1,430 that started the near-60 miles course round the Isle of Wight last year. Tony Pearson, secretary of the Island Sailing Club, the organising body, puts the decline partly down to the recession and partly to the lack of wind last year which prevented more than half from finishing. This year he hopes for fresh north-westerlies to drive the boats, which start leaving at 5.45am. There to defend its record of 5hr 35min 18sec, set in 1991, will be Mike Slade's Ocean 80, Ocean Leopard.

In New Zealand, Chris Dickson confirmed, to no one's surprise, that his Japanese-backed Whitbread 60 entry will be the Bruce Farr-designed boat and that the John Swarbrick-designed second boat in his two-boat programme is available for sale.

(Photograph omitted)